Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Case for the Wow! Signal

I recommend Robert Gray's book The Elusive Wow! if you want detailed background on the Wow! event of August 15th 1977. The book also describes the author's efforts to replicate the signal. To date, no one has reported a reliable second detection of the Wow! Signal, although efforts to find it have not been persistent.

The Wow! Signal was a single 72 second event detected by the Big Ear radio telescope operated by Ohio State University, which was sweeping past the constellation Sagittarius at the time. This telescope was designed to conduct a survey of the radio sky, not to study individual sources in detail. The survey was successful and a number of new radio sources were discovered. After that, some of the science team thought that a SETI search would be a good use of the telescope.

I think the case against the Wow! Signal as an ET beacon is well known.

We are all well aware of the fallacy of the argument from ignorance. Just because the Wow! Signal has not been proven to be from a known source doesn't mean it's from ET. It's possible that the Wow! Signal was some sort of strange problem with the Big Ear's receiver that only occurred once, or that it was an extraordinarily elaborate and strenuous hoax. For these reasons, you would need to see independent confirmation, and we haven't; Robert Gray's single-handed and largely self-funded efforts to do so have been far from comprehensive.

Since the Wow! Signal was discovered after the fact, when Jerry Ehman went through a stack of printouts, it was too late to get another radio telescope to break off what it was doing, swing over and confirm the signal.  The signal was never confirmed, and no similar signal has been found in that region of space.

The are multiple reasons we think that the Wow! Signal may have been an ET beacon.